The last half hour has been nothing but flashing lights, neon lines and retro zings of defanged future bombs and swishing lightsabers. The villain, redeemed but not forgiven, flees to the mountains where his former mentor once hid. His troops, however, fight on.
The alien desert has been ravaged by shelling; through the dust that pervades the atmosphere, we can just barely see the outlines of airships swirling in combat. On the ground, the expendable villains and indispensable heroes fight hand to hand. Limbs are separated from bodies in kaleidoscopic bursts.
Former Stormtrooper Finn cowers before one of his former colleagues, before Poe swoops in to blow the soldier’s head off with a blaster. The men embrace. Meanwhile, the film’s female lead – Rey – is fleeing the battle. Unbeknownst to her comrades in arms, she’s just been entrusted with her most vital mission yet. She holds the fate of generations inside her.
Seconds before she can reach the escape pod, an explosion rattles the blasted earth, and she hears the ominous whirring of an Empire shuttle. Tears in her eyes, she scuttles underneath the shattered wreck of the pod. The sky above her is choked with dust.
Our heroine cowers as the enemy ship passes over her, a slender hand resting protectively on her stomach.
Cut to black.
The picture fades back in, not the crisp neon cinematography of a 21st century Star Wars movie but the slightly faded blur of a dated period drama, like one of the Historica Minutes that the government of Canada makes. A balding man with curly white hair is sitting at a heavy oak desk, writing with a quill pen. Based on the last scenes before the time jump, he’s some sort of great grandchild of Rey. He looks familiar.
The theatre falls into reverent silence as the man on the screen bends over his notes, his hands at work but his mind elsewhere, dreaming of doing great things, if he has not done them already. Railroads. Unity. New beginnings and new nations.
He doesn’t look up before the screen once again falls dark. As the credits roll, I look around to see how everyone else is reacting. There’s not a dry eye in the house.
At the risk of appearing ignorant, I lean closer to my movie companion. “I don’t get it – who’s he supposed to be?” My friend, a history buff as well as a Star Wars nerd, upbraids me for not recognizing Sir Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister.
“That’s a strange and very Canadian-specific ending,” I say, gathering up my coat from the folded seat beside me. As we shuffle out of the aisle and begin to descend the stairs, a man in a cowboy hat going the opposite direction locks eyes with me. “Like, how are Americans reacting right now…?”
My friend is scandalized. “The man was Prime Minister for fifty years!”
“Yes, I know,” I retort, although I’d forgotten that Laurier had served for that long. I haven’t brushed up on my Canadian prime ministers since middle school. “But I just don’t see what it has to do with the Star Wars ennealogy.”
My friend looks at me like I’ve grown a third head. “How do you not get this? Rey embraced the light, and her descendants went on to greatness.”
“But why Wilfred Laurier?” I cry. “In all the annals of history, why would a major international production decide to use Wilfred Laurier as a self-explanatory symbol of greatness? And are these movies even set in the same universe as us?”
My friend raises an eyebrow. “You just don’t get Star Wars, do you?”
I sigh. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just more of a Planet of the Apes girl.”
“I bet you are!” calls the man in the cowboy hat, fighting his way the wrong way through the crowd to get a spot in the emptying theatre. I look his way, surprised, and he gives me a look that wouldn’t be out of place from a fading rocker at a backroad dive bar. But the crowd pulls me inexorably forward, and his leering eyes are off me.
Meanwhile, my friend is trying to make me understand why this ending was so impactful. Laurier, he says, was a beloved side character in one of the crossover novels that came out in the 90s, into which the Canadian government pumped a lot of funding.
Around us, people are still sniffling. They clearly see this as the love letter that it is.
“Do you get it now?” my friend asks.
“I guess,” I say, looking back up into the theatre. The cowboy is leaning against the stair railing, his body silhouetted against the star-dotted screen, which is still blasting a subdued version of John Williams’ iconic score, snippets of the national anthem skillfully interwoven into the melody. The cowboy winks at me.